Gerardo Gonzalez, the briefcase, and the University Archives

Earlier this summer whilst attending a “Lunch & Learn” hosted by the Office of the Bicentennial, I had the pleasure of meeting Gerardo Gonzalez, Dean Emeritus of the IU Bloomington School of Education (2000-2015). He mentioned that he had a memoir coming out later this year and he had some related family papers. They needed a permanent secure home – was the Archives interested?

Gerardo Gonzalez, 2014
Gerardo Gonzalez, 2014. IU Communications

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know that we collect quite broadly to document Indiana University and the people affiliated with the institution. But for those that may not or just for further information on our processes – indeed, the mission of the IU Libraries University Archives is to collect, preserve and make available university records of enduring value (as I tell classes, that is clearly something I have written down somewhere and have repeated several times, ha!). In pursuit of that mission, we focus on collecting records created and collected by IU Bloomington offices, departments, centers, institutes, as well as any campus offices with system-wide responsibilities. In addition, we seek out the records of student, faculty, and staff organizations. But we also extend our collecting priorities to the personal papers of IUB faculty, staff, and alumni. With these papers, we have areas of focus within each and they all tend to be on those materials that reflect their time at the university. But we also sometimes choose to go beyond that so that in the end, we have a collection that paints a fuller picture of the creator and his or her life.

So my answer to Dr. Gonzalez was an immediate affirmation. The papers he offered were very precious to him, as they were all related to his family’s emigration from Cuba to the United States shortly after Fidel Castro took power. Just a child at the time, Dr. Gonzalez only learned of the existence of the surviving telegrams, correspondence, plane tickets, etc. many years later when his father presented them in the briefcase in which they had been housed for safekeeping over the years.

This is the first telegram sent to Dr. Gonzalez’s parents. It threw them into a panic, as they had requested permission for their family of four to emigrate; this telegram instructed Gerardo’s younger sister – only 5 years old – to report to Havana for departure to the United States. Only Martiza. Nonetheless, his father began to explore possibilities so that at least Martiza could leave. Much to the family’s relief, later that same day they received a telegram that granted permission for their whole family to leave. In two days. IU Archives Collection C694

And now, we are responsible for their safekeeping, and they will allow us to tell a fuller, richer story of one of Indiana University’s most respected administrators and educators who began his life in the United States a shy, frightened refugee.

Gerardo Gonzalez, 1956. IU Archives P0082433

A finding aid for Dr. Gonzalez’s papers can be found on ArchivesOnlineIf you would like to view the collection, contact an archivist but note that we have fully digitized the small collection – click on the small cameras next to each item – as well as a few of the photographs! In addition to that, Dr. Gonzalez’s memoir, A Cuban Refugee’s Journey to the American Dream: The Power of Education, is now available through the IU Press! I just received my own copy, a gift from the author (thank you, Dr. Gonzalez!) yesterday, and I look forward to learning more about his journey.

Sincerely Yours: The Pinkerton Detective Agency

pinkerton-header

Scandal.

Intrigue.

THE Pinkerton Detective Agency.

 

Lest you think differently, Bloomington has been a hopping town for some years now. And university students today are different in many ways from the students of yore – but similar in so many more.

In the 19th century and into the early 20th, college students across the country would anonymously publish satirical and sometimes scandalous underground newsletters called boguses. They used these outlets to comment on rival organizations, students, and oftentimes, university faculty. We have some terrific examples of these publications in the Indiana University Archives, but none created a stir as much as what we call the “Turd” bogus. (Yes, really.)

On a spring morning in 1890, Bloomington residents woke to find that a particularly vulgar bogus had been delivered to their doorsteps during the night. The authors accomplished much in its single page, attacking Indiana University students and faculty by calling into question their intellect, morality, and sobriety.

Bloomington citizens were outraged, as at many households children found and read the bogus before parents got to it. And the University administration? Well, you can imagine their response. While unhappy about the situation himself, in public President Jordan tried to play the “boys will be boys” card. The IU Board of Trustees, however, was having none of it. They wanted the responsible students punished, so they called in the big guns to find the dastardly authors – none other than Chicago’s Pinkerton National Detective Agency.

The Pinkerton operative, known to us only as J.H.S., arrived in Bloomington in the wee hours of April 26th, 1890. In the Archives, we have a terrific series of letters the investigator sent to back to headquarters in Chicago. His reports read like something out of a detective novel: private conversations with students in his hotel room where he would try to trick them into confessing, lurking around town to hear what talk he could of the publication, etc.

The Pinkerton agent remained in Bloomington for nearly two weeks, dutifully reporting back each day, but it was the work of wagging tongues that revealed the authors and not so much J.H.S.’ fine detective work. As President Jordan suspected from the beginning due to the content and tone of the bogus, it was seven members of Beta Theta Pi fraternity who authored it. At the last moment, some of the writers lost their nerve and hid the newsletter in a trunk. The others, however, retrieved the bogus and distributed copies throughout the town.

Many in the guilty party were from prominent families, including Nicholas Robertson, son of IU Trustee Robert Stoddart Robertson. Nonetheless, all seven were expelled from the University. Connections, however, had its benefits, of course. In June 1892, the faculty relented and degrees were granted to five of the men, and all seven were reinstated into the University with good standing.

Below you can read the first letter of the Pinkerton operative — click the image for the full PDF of the letter, and if you’d like to read more, contact the Archives!

What? You want to read the bogus that created such a stir? Well, be warned that it really is quite vile. But here you go – click on the bogus image to open a larger version, which you can then blow up for full reading pleasure.

Letter to L.V. Buskirk from William A. Pinkerton, April 28, 1890
Yes, THE Pinkerton Detective Agency

 

Bang! Zoom! KaPow! Comic books in the classroom

Indiana University has a really fun new series of commercials featuring some of our alumni with name recognition. The commercials flash back to their time on campus and talks about how they would not be where they are now if it weren’t for IU. The most recent release features Michael Uslan who earned his undergraduate (1973), master’s (1975) and law degrees (1976), all from IU. Today you may know him as one of Hollywood’s most accomplished movie producers and a Professor of Practice at IU’s Media School.

But in the 1970s, you may have just thought of him as a comic book geek. But what this comic book geek knew was that 1. He wanted to do something that would relate to his love of comics and 2. There was so much to be learned from this genre. Enter IU and its willingness to experiment.

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Michael Uslan in the classroom. (Or, you know, an actor. Not really Michael Uslan.) Click on the image to view commercial on YouTube!

In the late 1960s, the College of Arts and Sciences established a new “Experimental Curriculum” along with a committee to review and hear proposals. The first few rounds only brought proposals from faculty, but eventually the process was opened to students who had backing from a faculty member. Luckily for Uslan, he was going to school at the birthplace of Folklore studies in the United States. He approached Dr. Henry Glassie, then an Assistant Professor of Folklore, with his proposal of a for-credit course called “The Comic Book in Society.” In his book, The Boy Who Loved Batman: A Memoir, Uslan says Glassie was supportive of the course proposal from the beginning. With the first hurdle conquered, Uslan next had his 15 minute appointment to convince the committee that this was a good idea.

As he writes in his memoir, it sounds like Uslan was entering a bit of a lion’s den (or, as he describes it, the Justice League of America’s Secret Sanctum). Uslan launched into his pitch outlining how he would approach the subject academically and offered his thoughts that the comic book was simply modern-day mythology. The Dean (or chair) scoffed at this so Uslan asked him if he could tell him a bit of the Biblical story of Moses. The Dean obliged. So then Uslan asked him to recount the story of Superman. The Dean began but before he got very far, a light came on and he said, “Mr. Uslan, your course is accredited.”

Uslan says before this he had been casually teaching other students about comic books for some time now and another IU student, Roger Stern, had also done some work to teach with comic books on campus. But this was his opportunity to create a full-fledged syllabus and to really bring attention to the genre. He taught his first class as a junior.

Thankfully, a good chunk of IU Professor Leo Solt’s records from his role as Chair of the Experimental Curriculum Committee found their way to the University Archives via History Department records. As a result, researchers today can review one of Uslan’s proposals, examine what other experimental courses were proposed, approved, and denied, and also, see Uslan’s letter to the committee with his recommendations on how to continue the popular course upon his graduation.

The fall '72 course proposal
The fall ’72 course proposal

The course garnered national attention and Uslan found himself thrust into the media spotlight (well, he didn’t just “find” himself there. According to The Boy Who Loved Batman, Uslan actually called one media outlet disguised as a disgusted citizen ranting that such a course was being taught at Indiana University in a [successful] attempt to whip up some attention). By the time he graduated, the course had gone from a 1 credit course taught by Stern to a full 3 credit course.

September 1972. Uslan (on right) with teaching assistant Larry Goltz.

In reviewing the syllabus, this was no cushy course. Students had recommended and required reading (required reading = comic books, such as Spiderman, Conan, and Mr. Miracle. If not available on the stands, students were instructed to see him to borrow from his extensive collection.) Class participation was required and graded assignments included a mid-term paper and a final project that entailed creating and drawing their own comic strip (“If you can’t draw, detailed stick figures will do”). Guest speakers from some of the major comic book companies were incorporated into the syllabus, as Uslan had contacts with many of them. His Fall 1972 syllabus says potential visitors included Buster Crabbe and Kirk Alyn!

That’s just a little taste of Uslan’s time here at IU. He also met his wife, paid for her engagement ring and living expenses by selling a large chunk of his comic book collection, had a popular radio show on WIUS that he and his co-host also performed live at parties (for a meaty $300 fee)…his IU story goes on. In recent years, Uslan has given back to the university that helped him get his start in many ways, but one from which YOU can directly benefit, right now, today, is the extensive collection of comic books, graphic novels, and personal papers he has donated to IU’s Lilly Library. A searchable database is available via their web site, along with a request form to view any of the materials.

May 8, 1976, Law School commencement.  KaPow!

Sincerely Yours – Letters from the Archives: Helen Keller

William Lowe Bryan – Indiana University alumnus, professor, vice president, president, and finally, president emeritus – had a dazzling array of correspondents over the years. Included on the roster were presidents, entertainers, writers, scientists….the list goes on. They are all fascinating but when I first stumbled across the below in his presidential correspondence a few years ago, the writer’s evident pain rather took my breath away:

Helen Keller to William Lowe Bryan, December 31, 1936

Most American schoolchildren learn the story of Helen Keller but just a recap: as a toddler, Keller fell ill and once recovered, had lost both her hearing and vision. As she grew, she developed a method of communicating with her family but in 1886 her parents sought additional help for their daughter and found themselves at the Perkins Institute for the Blind. The school’s director asked 20-year old teacher Anne Sullivan, who had herself become visually impaired due to a childhood illness, to work with young Helen. Thus began a lifelong friendship between the two. In October 1936, Anne suffered a heart attack and died five days later at the home she shared with Helen.

“From War to Peace in 1945 Germany: A GI’s Experience”

From War to PeaceIn 1953, Malcolm “Mac” Fleming joined the Indiana University School of Education and the Audio-Visual Center of Adult Education, where he began as an instructor and acting supervisor of motion pictures. What students may not have known is that their young instructor had been taught the trade by Uncle Sam.

Originally from Oregon, once the Army heard Fleming knew his way around a camera, they transferred him to the Signal Corps Photo Center in New York to be trained as a combat photographer. Billeted near Times Square, Mac practiced his craft on the streets of Manhattan, capturing shots of the busy metropolis, the results later reviewed and critiqued by his trainers. At his next stop in England, Fleming was told the Army needed motion picture photographers, so “[the sergeant] quickly taught me how to load a one-hundred-foot roll of 35 mm motion picture film into a handheld Eymo camera and I became a cinematographer overnight.”

In the belt pouch meant for a first aid kit, Mac instead carried his own small camera so that in addition to the official Army photos, he could capture shots of scenes that were of personal interest. In a field notebook, he documented these images just as he did the Army photos and films, and what resulted was a rich record of one young soldier’s experience in the European Theater. The destruction, the refugees carrying what possessions they could, and village life that went on as it could were all captured by Fleming’s little camera.

Fleming's caption typed on reverse side of image reads, in full:
Fleming’s caption typed on reverse side of image reads, in full: “Ruins now lie at the feet of the iron figure of Kaiser Wilhelm. A German living in a nearby room amid the rubble showed me this viewpoint. Looking at it while I took the pic he said that Hitler had gotten what he’d been pleading for–total war.” July 9, 1945, Nuremberg, Germany.

Now in his 90s, Prof. Fleming has donated his extensive collection to the University Archives, but not before collaborating with the IU Press in a gorgeous book, “From War to Peace in 1945 Germany: A GI’s Experience.” The book which includes his original notes, partnered with updated captions and a foreword by James H. Madison, IU’s Thomas and Kathryn Miller Professor Emeritus of History, and an afterword by Brad Cook, Curator of Photographs here in the Archives, is a must have for anybody with an interest in World War II.